I don’t know what happened to me this weekend, but something deep, dark, and ugly stirred and I woke up one morning knowing one thing with a truer certainty than anything I had ever known: I had to cook more Gwyneth Paltrow recipes. I actually missed it! I think I have brain cancer.
So Sunday morning I strapped on my most waterproof boots, to better trudge through the horrifically blackened, disgusting piles of what was once Nemo’s snow, and headed out the door. The plan was to make Hot Niçoise Salad. “One cold wintery day in London, I was dreaming about salad niçoise,” Gwyneth introduces the recipe, because of course. “It didn’t seem right to be eating something so crispy and chilly in the dead of winter, so I devised this hot version.” The ingredients listed were pretty straightforward, it was a cold wintery day in New York City, and I have already attempted her cold niçoise salad, so I brimmed with confidence.
My neighborhood is terrible for fish (I’m shocked Bed-Stuy isn’t swarming with fishmongers!) but, in my year and a half(?!) in Brooklyn, if I’ve learned one thing it is this: Gwyneth Paltrow would go apeshit at Brooklyn Fare.
Brooklyn Fare, in downtown Brooklyn, is the most insane grocery store I’ve ever been to. I’ve been to the flagship Whole Foods in Austin (bragging), and, while that store is overwhelmingly stocked with every ingredient known to man, as well as about 30 different bars and restaurants, the Whole Foods has about 4 city blocks with which to work. Brooklyn Fare somehow packs all that variety into a space that seems smaller than my apartment.
What I’m trying to say is, Brooklyn Fare is the best discovery I have ever made, and will probably singlehandedly keep this blog chugging along to its miserable, long-delayed conclusion. (And, before you ask, no, there will not be a second season of the Danny/Gwyneth Project focused on her upcoming cookbook, which will apparently turn you from a fat, slovenly, anemic piece of shit into a superhuman BFF of Beyonce and Jay-Z. Although, I am slightly tempted. You see? Brain cancer.) This is how perfect Brooklyn Fare is: the second I walked in, I saw a sign proudly declaring, “WE NOW HAVE AVOCADO OIL!”
See what I mean? Brooklyn Fare is like shopping inside Gwyneth Paltrow’s brain.
So, I spent about 45 minutes plodding through the overstuffed, confusing, cramped, and completely fucking insane aisles until I had found all the ingredients I needed. They were all pretty standard items, but I knew from my last experience one item I’d have problems finding was niçoise olives. Of course, Brooklyn Fare had them, on a shelf with about 400 different types of olives. (They also had anchovies in a resealable jar, which is delightful, because I never use all the anchovies that come in a tin in just one recipe, and then I try to save the rest of the anchovies even though the tins don’t re-close, and then I end up coating my fridge with anchovy-scented olive oil. This is perhaps the most White People Problem-y complaint ever, but I’m very happy it is no longer my White People Problem.)
The last thing I had to purchase was the tuna. Two tuna steaks at Brooklyn Fare came to an absolutely astonishing $30. The tuna was more expensive than the lobster on hand! I didn’t major in Fish Economics in college so I don’t understand how this could happen, but spending nearly $100 on ingredients for one recipe is a classic Gwyneth move, so I just told myself it was her gentle way of saying, “Welcome back.”
The dish is actually very easy to prepare, and it’s one of those rare recipes that allots plenty of clean-up time while you’re cooking, leaving you with almost no dishes after you’ve eaten, which is always the best thing. I started by roasting two peppers, one of my favorite things I started doing thanks to Ms. Paltrow. My dog, clearly out of practice with this project, whimpered in the corner as the peppers popped and burnt in the flames. Rotating peppers over an open flame with a pair of tongs in my own kitchen is when I feel most like I’m on Top Chef. I just need about 30 more tattoos and a handlebar moustache to really complete the picture.
While the blackened peppers cooled, I steamed a bunch of green beans and prepared the other vegetables (halved the cherry tomatoes, tore the basil, and briefly considered trying to pit the niçoise olives before realizing I wouldn’t even know how to begin and I really just didn’t feel like taking that extra step). I tore the roasted peppers and arranged all the vegetables on a roasting pan, rubbing the mix with oil. I then took one of my massive, overpriced tuna steaks, rubbed it with oil, salt, and pepper, and plopped it in the middle of the vegetables. I then layered a few anchovies amongst the vegetables, cracked an egg in a ramekin in the corner of the pan, and put the whole thing in the oven.
This makes me want to paint.
This wasn’t the Danny/Gwyneth Project I remembered. This was too easy. The ingredients were familiar, simple, easy to work with, and the dish was absolutely beautiful. Something clearly had to go wrong.
But nothing did. The hot niçoise salad was outrageously good – the entire dish was consumed in under 15 minutes – and, I can’t stress this enough, it was crazy beautiful to look at. It vastly outdid the cold niçoise salad I had made earlier – I remember thinking the anchovies in the cold salad mixed with the tuna to overpower the vegetables with a noxious fishy taste, but in the oven the anchovies were able to melt into the vegetables, blending it all together in a much more palatable way.
This was crazy good. Seriously. Probably in the top 5 Gwyneth recipes I’ve made so far. Besides the outrageous price of the tuna (which is definitely due to everything in New York being insanely expensive, so I can’t fault Gwyneth), it was fast, easy, super tasty, and – a rarity for a cookbook that considers “mix eggs and whatever else you want to make an omelet” a recipe deserving two pages – it was an original idea I wouldn’t have thought to try. Sometimes you just have to admit that Gwyneth knows best.
On an unrelated note, I’m driving a rickshaw across the entire country of India this April as part of a charity event. Seriously. It’s completely insane and I’m probably in way over my head and there’s a not-so-small chance we’re going to drive the rickshaw into a Bengal tiger’s mouth or something, but if you want to learn more about it and follow along (I’ll be blogging as much as possible from the road, and will probably end up writing about a million words about the experience when I get back) you can find our team page at Sitar-Wars.com. And if you are feeling extra supportive, we really, really need more donations to hit our fundraising goals, so please, while you’re there, read about our two charities and please consider donating!